Ask even the very well educated and informed Kenyan what Chatham House is and you’re likely to gate blank stares or some vague description of this entity.
It describes itself as existing to help governments and societies in building a sustainably secure, prosperous and just world.
If Kenyan politicians get their brightest ideas on how to govern at some favourite watering hole on their ninth drink, British politicians and other Western politicians get theirs from mostly think tanks.
Chatham House is one such think tank and one of the best in the world. That Chatham House is influential in shaping UK policy on Africa and other parts of the world is nothing surprising.
What Kenyans will be surprised to know is how this think tank is shaping our country’s future very openly but even more effectively behind the scenes.
Just a decade ago — and especially after PEV — there was loud talk and almost flipping the West the middle finger by those who had grabbed power in Kenya essentially saying, “We don’t need you, we have China to look to.”
The reasoning here was—if you can call it that — that if Raila Odinga was the winner of the 2007 election — then Kenya was to sever relations with the West and throw the welcome mat to China with dire consequences for everyone, including the Western countries.
Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed, and as a result, we had the 20o8 compromise leading to the coalition government.
Fast forward to 2013: We had a repeat of the same, especially early on when ICC cloud hanged over Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, where on the one hand, the duo were busy lobbying for their lives in the West, while on the other, they had an even more extended hand of welcome to China such that when the dust settled, we have what we have now and that is, this potpourri of the West, China and a new man in Uhuru either flexing his muscle to exercise power he didn’t know how to previously, or simply trying to erase the past while creating a new legacy for himself.
What is fascinating about all of this is how in the past, despite our history with the British, it was the US that led and heavily influenced the West’s policies in Africa and Kenya in particular Yet, today and looking forward, America’s influence in Kenya or Africa is waning, while that of the UK is rising significantly with no signs of abating.
So much so such that when the history books are written, it will be clear we have the handshake, yes, because of Raila’s humility and Uhuru recognition it was time, but even more importantly because of what Chatham House did or more specifically, how they brought about the outcome.
The outcome was an end by itself, rather, a means to an end.
What’s that end?
That’s where it becomes very interesting and the reason why what Ruto said at Chatham House is even more riveting: Revealing Chatham House’s hand in shaping our current and near future politics.
In other words, the roadmap having been placed on the table for everyone to follow for violence-free elections in 2022 and onwards—with a price to pay if they don’t, then one has no choice but to follow it.
Question is, how does Ruto play this hand, knowing the political axes are out to politically chop him? It’s tricky but there’s no doubt he took good notes from Chatham House and will try to follow the script.
Except in that he may find himself written off the play script by those cunning enough to do so without rattling snakes at Chatham House.
Samuel Omwenga is a legal analyst and political commentator in the US